Untitled (Duldul Horse)

Untitled (Duldul Horse)
signed in Hindi and initialed in Urdu (lower right)
oil on canvas
40 x 48 in. (101.6 x 121.9 cm.)
Painted circa 1960s
Sotheby's New York, 16 September 1999, lot 222
Acquired from the above by the present owner

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Nishad Avari
Nishad Avari Specialist, Head of Department

Lot Essay

One of the most dominant and enduring motifs in Maqbool Fida Husain’s wide ranging body of work is the figure of the horse. “Husain's painted horses do not just bear majestic stateliness and striking beauty but also come alive in every mood, situation and form. Their forceful movement conveys so much that it carries us away with it” (R. Siddiqui, In Conversation with Husain Paintings, New Delhi, 2001, p. 112).

The horse became a central part of Husain’s oeuvre in the early 1950s, when he first painted the animal. His inspiration to paint horses was derived from a combination of sources, notably his childhood in Indore where he spent time with his grandfather’s friend who worked in a stable as a farrier, and later, his travels in China and Italy, where he studied Tang pottery horses and discovered the equestrian sculptures of the artist Marino Marini (1901-1980).

Closer to home were Husain’s enduring memories of experiencing Muharram as a young boy. During this festival, men would carry tazias, or replicas of Imam Hussain’s tomb, with figures of his faithful horse Duldul in a procession through the streets. Husain’s “earliest memories of artistic participation were with the making of the tazias in Indore where twenty foot high effigies of horses were carried in procession during the final day of Muharram, as symbols of the martyrdom of Imam Hussain the grandson of the Prophet. These gigantic horses signified all the valour of the warrior for the young boy and they emerged in some of his earliest paintings as animated, powerful animals” (Y. Dalmia, ‘M.F. Husain: Reinventing India’, Early Masterpieces: 1950s-70s, London, 2006, unpaginated).

In this painting, Husain returns to his memories of the tazias and their heavily decorated effigies of Duldul to explore the equine figure as representative of courage and vitality. Painted against a sapphire blue background, the white stallion in the present lot, with one of its front legs raised, seems ready for battle against the abstract forms engulfed in dark shadows on the right, evocative of the unknown and the unenlightened. The dimunitive figures on the left appear to be pulling this monumental horse effigy across the picture plain. Instead of a rider, Husain paints Duldul with an open palm on his back. In the gesture of abhaya mudra, a motif that recurred frequently in Husain’s oeuvre, this palm is symbolic of fearlessness and renunciation. This magnificent example of Husain’s most iconic subject symbolizes the victory of the courageous, and the eventual triumph of light over darkness and knowledge over ignorance.

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